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Six artists, one city at the Hygienic

The one thing the six exhibiting artists have in common in "Common Ground" - the title of the current show at the Hygienic Art Galleries - is that they're all residents of New London.

But that's where they part ways. Their choices of mediums and the way they express their visions of the city are completely unique.

Also unusual is that three of the five artists are from foreign shores - bringing an international perspective and flavor to their New London-inspired artwork.

The artists are Ted Ciesielski, video installations; Don Eccleston, watercolor paintings; Pola Esther, photography; Yibing Huang, poetry; Michael J. Peery, paintings and drawings; and Troy Zaushny, prints and polyfresco paintings.

Peery, an accomplished oil painter and art professor at Rhode Island School of Design, is credited as the mastermind behind the exhibition.

He says the AT&T radio tower, a well-known landmark in New London, was the one constant in the show.

"I knew that Troy had done work (in response) to it, and that Ted had done time-lapse shots of the tower, and I had started a painting of it," he said.

Seeing New London as a catalyst for multiple disciplines, Peery asked some of his favorite artists in the city to participate in the show.

Peery's oil paintings in the exhibit are of specific New London landmarks, such as the Garde Arts Center, DDLC tanks, Ocean Beach and two portraits of Eugene O'Neill, titled "Duality," in which a mask-like smile is painted on the famous playwright's face.

"Eugene O'Neill was obviously a big part of New London, and I wanted to explore the idea of duality," Peery explained. "He looked so serious and dour in photos, I wanted to put a smile on his face but not do a straightforward portrait."

Peery also included two oil and charcoal drawings of old landmark buildings on newspaper - The Day, in fact.

There's a story behind Zaushny's "Curtains for New London," a large mixed media piece featuring the radio tower and a tsunami wave on a shower curtain overlaying multi-colored panels.

Zaushny says he never really paid attention to the tower when he first moved to New London five years ago, as imposing as it was. But then he began speculating with an artist friend about the tower's use.

"He said it was to keep Godzilla away-to protect New London against any kind of disaster, real or imagined," he said.

This became the impetus for the piece, which plays to our vulnerability-or denial of reality-imagining we can protect ourselves from disasters like a tidal wave with a mere shower curtain.

Describing his other pieces in the show, Zaushny says "Goldstar on the Thames" (block print on muslin) is what New London's about for him: "juxtaposing industrial man-made things with the natural beauty of the water."

Esther creates a personal story of her relationship with New London in her installation titled "Confession of an Angel #1," "Confession of an Angel #2" and "Confession of an Angel #3."

Visitors to the gallery are invited to enter three red-curtained booths, that Esther describes as a "surrealistic approach to a confessional" and look through a viewfinder at dozens of slides dangling on strings. The images are of New London churches and people photographed as angels with white or black wings.

"I come from a theater background and wanted the audience to be interactive with the photos," Esther explained.

She says when Peery asked her to participate in the show and think about how she responds to New London, she recalled how amazed she was, when she came to the city from Poland seven years ago, by the number of churches of different denominations.

"I come from a country where 90 percent of people are Roman Catholic," she said. "I was surprised by how many places of worship there were-27-in such a small area."

The feeling of Esther's piece is mysterious, mystical and playful and encourages people to ponder the meaning of "spirit, sin and sublimation."

Polish-born filmmaker Cielselski also sees New London from a fascinating viewpoint. In the 1980s he directed music videos for top Polish rock bands; in the '90s he traveled through Europe and Asia making documentary films and then moved to New York City where he made urban art films about the Twin Towers and the Empire State Building. He runs a film studio in New London and counts National Geographic, HBO, Christo and Lady Gaga among his clients.

Ciesielski's multi-screen video installation of select New London landmarks includes the AT&T tower, Shaw's Cove swing bridge, the Soldiers & Sailors monument and the Golden Street mural. The mural is shown not being painted but being painted over; the reverse of what one would expect.

He uses time-lapse photography, which he says he's "obsessed" with because it gives him the ability to control events. The videos also run in a continuous loop with no beginning or end so the viewer starts and finishes when they want to-and he didn't add music or voice-overs because "silence makes you more focused. It's more meditative."

Ciesielski says he finds the local views beautiful and keeps discovering fascinating new locations to film.

Don Eccleston has lived in New London his whole life. He taught art in New London and Waterford high schools and is a drummer who jams with local bands, but the work he created for the show is not in direct response to any of the city's landmarks.

Eccleston's fluid watercolors come together through various means-the use of found objects, memory and imagination.

"I don't do specific scenes of New London. My work reflects my feelings about living in this area-the mood, the people and events that are all part of me," he explained. "I call it intuitive painting that develops from the first thing that comes to mind with colors, shapes and so forth."

Interspersed between the visual arts are poems by Yibing Huang, a literary scholar and associate professor of Chinese at Connecticut College. Huang is a renowned poet in both the U.S. and in his native China, under the pen name Mai Mang.

Huang translated six of his poems specifically for the show-the first time they've ever been presented and published in English.

Huang's interplay of words gives the viewer the freedom to construct their own images about the city.

"They all directly and indirectly relate to New London," he said. "If you put the six poems together (they read) like a narrative."

"I participated in this show purely out of my friendship with Michael Peery," Huang adds, "and my increasing bond with New London and its diverse and vibrant international art community."

If you go

What: "Common Ground: Six Artists Interpret New London

When: Through April 16

Where: Hygienic Art Galleries, 79-83 Bank St., New London.

Info: 860-443-8001 or www.hygienic.org

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